NATO made the right call on helping Libya

Libya has rightly dominated the headlines in recent weeks. Many views have been expressed, including those who favor doing nothing and those who accuse the international community — and NATO as part of it — of not doing enough.

It is quite right that we should have this debate. A free and open media is an essential characteristic of democratic societies and is, ultimately, one of the values we are battling to help secure for the Libyan people.

These disparate views in the newspaper headlines underscore the fact that it is never easy to forge a broad-based agreement to take military action. But the international community and NATO had to act in Libya — and we did so quickly. Let me explain why, and why I believe our course of action to be the correct one.

First, we could not stand idly by while Col. Moammar Gaddafi unleashed indiscriminate violence against his people as they sought change from his despotic regime. Defying worldwide appeals for restraint, his forces brutally attacked Libyan civilians with tanks, heavy guns and snipers.

Second, our actions have been based on the support of the international community, including the United Nations, the Arab League and countries in the region, every step of the way.

When the U.N. Security Council passed Resolution 1973 on March 17, voting 10 to 0, it made a historic statement that it was prepared to take on the responsibility of protecting the Libyan people against systematic attacks, which — according to Resolution 1970 on Libya — “may amount to crimes against humanity.”

In this broad international effort, NATO was asked to play a key part. NATO allies have taken on full responsibility for implementing all military aspects of this resolution: policing the arms embargo, patrolling the no-fly zone and protecting civilians from the threat of attack. The Contact Group on Libya — including 21 countries and representatives of key international and regional organizations — welcomed NATO’s command and control of military operations at its meeting in Doha, Qatar, this week.

We agreed to take on the U.N. mandate after intensive discussion and careful planning within NATO and on the basis of solidarity among all 28 member states.

Third, NATO is doing its utmost to fully enforce the U.N. mandate around the clock. Since we took over command of the mission in Libya on March 31, the operational tempo has not abated. We have flown more than 2,000 sorties, of which over 900 have been strike sorties.

What has changed is the situation in Libya. In the early days, sorties focused on static targets — the locations of which were known. Now we are conducting pinpoint strikes and degrading the ability of Gaddafi’s forces to fight. We are targeting air defenses, tanks, armored personnel carriers, ammunition dumps and fuel supplies. Gaddafi is hiding his tanks and heavy weapons in city centers, near schools and mosques, showing his utter disregard for the lives of civilians. In stark contrast, NATO pilots strike with care and precision to maximize the effect of our actions while minimizing the danger to civilians.

Our actions mean that the pro-Gaddafi forces cannot fight where they want, cannot fight how they want and cannot use the weapons that they want against the civilian population.

Within a clear and internationally agreed mandate, our alliance is conducting its mission with vigor and determination, supported by countries stretching from the Arctic Ocean to the Arabian Gulf.

NATO provides a tried and tested hub for the coordination of the efforts of all the allies. It also provides a trusted framework for including partner contributions. Together, allies and partners are contributing to the enforcement of United Nations resolutions 1970 and 1973. We have the capabilities required; we are using them effectively and successfully. And we are committed to providing all necessary forces and maximum operational flexibility within our mandate. On Thursday, NATO foreign ministers meeting in Berlin made it clear that we would continue to exert this pressure on legitimate targets as long as is necessary.

In NATO, we have three key objectives. First, to stop all attacks and the threat of attacks against civilians and civilian populated areas. Second, to see a credible and verifiable withdrawal of all the regime’s forces back to their bases, including a withdrawal from the populated areas they have occupied. Finally, the regime must allow immediate, full, safe and unhindered humanitarian assistance to all the people of Libya.

As I have made clear, ultimately there is no purely military solution to this crisis. That is why the international community is urgently seeking a political settlement. A settlement that ensures that the people’s legitimate demands for genuine transition and a brighter future do not run into the Libyan sands.

By Anders Fogh Rasmussen, secretary general of NATO.

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